xxxxxHenry Fielding began his writing career as a playwright, his most memorable work being Tom Thumb, produced in 1730. However, in 1737 a satirical work attacking the government and its chief minister Robert Walpole put an end to his time in the theatre! He began writing as a novelist in 1742, producing Samela and then Joseph Adams, both satirical attacks upon the bourgeois morality of Samuel Richardson's prudish Pamela. His major work, and one which did much to develop the novel as a literary form, was his Tom Jones of 1749. A story full of high-spirited adventures, convincing characters and a realistic portrayal of 18th century life across the social spectrum, it was an instant success, and paved the way for the likes of Charles Dickens and George Elliot. In addition to his literary work, he wrote against the Jacobite Forty-Five Rebellion, and spent some time as a successful London magistrate. In this office he was responsible for the Bow Street Runners, a band of "thief-takers" which anticipated the forming of the police force in the early part of the 19th century. He was a close friend of William Hogarth.

HENRY FIELDING 1707 - 1754  (AN, G1, G2)

xxxxxThe History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, Henry Fielding's masterpiece of 1749, did much to develop the form of the modern novel. Tom's high-spirited adventures followed an "engineered" plot, created a variety of convincing characters, and provided a highly accurate picture of life across the social spectrum, be it in a town or rural setting. His realistic portrayal of current society, his host of memorable characters, and his ample injection of both humour and compassion, ensured its popularity. Furthermore, the dialogue was easy to understand, and the characters and situations were familiar, enabling the reader to feel part of the ongoing saga. But good as it was, it was Fielding's only picaresque novel of such calibre. In fact, he started his career as a playwright and ended it as a jurist. He did not become a novelist until 1742, and Tom Jones was not written until five years before his death.

xxxxxFielding was born at Sharpham Park in Somerset, his family claiming descent from a branch of the Habsburgs. He was educated at Eton, and studied classics at Leiden University until his father could no longer afford his allowance. On returning to London in 1729, he was faced with making his own living. As he put it at the time "I have no choice but to be a hackney writer or a hackney coachman". Fortunately for English literature, he chose the former, and began his career as a playwright with Love in Several Masques, played at the Drury Lane Theatre. Twenty four more plays followed. These met with a good measure of success, particularly his farce Tom Thumb, the tiny hero of English folklore, produced in 1730. In 1737, however, he ran into trouble. In that year he produced his Historical Register for 1736 in which he launched a bitter, satirical attack upon the government's corrupt administration in general, and the incompetence of its first-minister, Robert Walpole, in particular. The result was the passing of the Licensing Act of 1737 whereby all new plays had to be approved by the Lord Chamberlain before they could be performed. This put an end to Fielding's career as a dramatist!

xxxxxWith a wife and two children to support, he then spent time studying law at the Middle Temple, and was called to the Bar in 1740. But he remained a "hackney writer" at heart. The following year he began writing novels, starting with An Apology for the life of Mrs Samela Andrews, a merciless skit on Samuel Richardson's somewhat emotional and prudish Pamela. This was followed by a further attack on Pamela, this time in his mock epic recounting the Adventures of Joseph Andrews. An exciting, if somewhat burlesque comedy, it featured the comic figure Parson Adams, and was written in the style of Cervante's Don Quixote. Then, returning to politics in 1743, he produced his History of the Life of the late Mr Jonathan Wild the Great, a work packed with irony in which he likened the downfall of the "hero" (a notorious criminal, in fact, hanged in 1725) to the fall from power of the country's chief minister Robert Walpole.

xxxxxFor the next few years he continued his involvement in political and public life. In 1745 he wrote a pamphlet strongly condemning the Jacobite invasion, led by Bonnie Prince Charlie, and then became editor of The True Patriot to continue his support for the government. The administration was so impressed with his pamphlet that they made 2,000 copies of it and distributed it throughout the country. It is perhaps not surprising that, when he came to write his great novel Tom Jones, he should tell it against the background of the Forty-Five Rebellion. In 1748, in recognition of his services, he was appointed Justice of the Peace for Westminster and Middlesex. In this position, the honesty and determination he showed in the fight against crime did much to improve the standing of this legal office. Andxit was while serving at Bow Street that he recruited a small body of "thief-takers". Known as the Bow Street Runners, this band of men anticipated the formation of the London police force in the early part of the next century.

xxxxxAs noted, it was in 1749, that he produced his highly successful novel Tom Jones. This was followed two years later by Amelia, a story based on domestic life, but, whilst it had greater depth, it lacked the comic element, and was nowhere near as successful. It was perhaps for that reason that from then on he gave his time up to his public duties. In 1751, for example, he wrote his Inquiry into the Increase of Robbers, a useful contribution to crime prevention, and soon after this founded The Covent Garden Journal, a means by which the public could report crimes and provide descriptions of suspects. But such labours took a toll on his health. He had suffered from gout for many years, and in 1754 he fell ill with asthma. In June of that year he went to Portugal to seek the sun, but he died in the October and was buried in the British cemetery in Lisbon.

xxxxxFielding has been called by some the "father of the novel", and by others the "Hogarth of literature". Certainly, along with Samuel Richardson, he made the novel a major literary form. Hexwas likely influenced by the works of the Greek dramatist Aristophanes and the English writer Ben Jonson, and it would seem that the picaresque romance Adventures of Gil Blas by the French playwright and novelist Alain-René Lesage, begun in 1715, played a part in his development of the novel. He, in his turn, paved the way for the likes of Charles Dickens, George Eliot and William Thackeray.

xxxxxIncidentally, Fielding was a close friend of William Hogarth. The English artist and engraver produced the frontispiece for his heroic drama Tom Thumb, and Fielding’s The Covent Garden Tragedy of 1732 was loosely based on Hogarth’s picture narrative A Harlot’s Progress.


Samuel Richardson

and Abbé Prévost


Fielding: engraving, 1825, by unknown artist – contained in Crabb’s Historical Dictionary, published in 1825. Richardson: by the English portrait painter Joseph Highmore (1692-1780), 1750 - National Portrait Gallery, London. Huckleberry Finn: drawing by the American illustrator Edward Windsor Kemble (1861-1933) for the 1884 publication of Huckleberry Finn – Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington.


xxxxxSamuel Richardson (1689-1761), alongside Henry Fielding, was one of the founders of the modern novel. A successful printer by trade, he was over 50 when he wrote his two major works, Pamela and his more successful novel, Clarissa. Both stories are told in the form of a series of letters, and both take the high moral ground in tracing the struggle of two women to defend their honour against the sexual advances of master or would-be lover. Both works, but Clarissa in particular, provide a deep psychological insight into the makeup of the characters in this emotional struggle of the sexes. The prudish, sentimental handling of the theme, and the intensity of his own feelings, came in for some caustic ridicule - notably from Fielding - but both works were highly influential both in Britain and on the continent in developing the novel as an important literary form.

xxxxxAs we have seen, Samuel Richardson (1689-1761), along with Henry Fielding, was one of the founders of the modern novel. His three major works, Pamela, Clarissa and Sir Charles Grandison, all produced in the form of a series of letters, proved immensely popular and greatly influenced the growth of this literary departure.

xxxxxHe was born in Mackworth, Derbyshire in 1689 and, so it would seem, received only an elementary education. His family returned to London in 1699 and it was here that he worked as an apprentice in the printing trade.  He established his own business in 1721, and by the 1730s had gained a wide reputation. He was able to move to a larger house in London, where his circle of friends included the painter William Hogarth, the writer Dr. Johnson, and the poet Edward Young. At the same time, contact with members of parliament enabled him to obtain a large amount of government printing, including the production of the journals of the House.

xxxxxIn 1739, at the request of a London bookseller, he wrote a series of letters designed as models for "country readers". It was while compiling these Familiar Letters for Important Occasions, published in 1741, that he hit upon the theme for his first novel Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded. This centred around a young maid-servant who, in a series of letters to her parents and friends, tells of her struggle to defend her virtue against the sexual advances of her master. Ridiculed as it was by some - including, of course, Henry Fielding - on the grounds of its excessive emotion and bourgeois morality, it was nonetheless a huge success.

xxxxxThis was followed in 1748 by Clarissa, a more powerful work of no less than seven volumes, based roughly on the same theme but showing - from a variety of perspectives - a much greater psychological insight into the formation of the characters. The story, high in moral tone and brimming with emotion, builds to a tragic climax. Here, by his rare understanding of the female mind, Richardson lifted the novel onto a higher plane. His third work, The History of Sir Charles Grandison, was clearly an attempt to redress the balance by depicting the ideal Christian gentleman - possibly with Fielding's wayward hero Tom Jones in mind. It took him seven volumes to achieve this, but the content did not have quite the same impact, particularly amongst female readers!

xxxxxIn his last years he continued to oversee his printing business, but enjoyed his well-deserved fame within the literary circles of the day. And fame he certainly did acquire. His works, probing deeply into the inner, unexpressed feelings of the mind, and tracing the intensity of these feelings upon the relationship of the sexes, had a strong sentimental and emotional appeal. His works were known and admired on the continent (notably by the French writers Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire), whilst at home his reputation lasted out the century. We are told that the English writer Jane Austen particularly admired Grandison.

xxxxxRichardson's own life was not without its tragedy. Of the six children from his first marriage, all died before reaching the age of four, and he lost his first wife in 1731. And it was later discovered that he had suffered throughout his life from a rare bone complaint that made painful any use of his joints. He died in Parsons Green, near London.

xxxxxThe French writer Abbé Prévost (1697-17643) translated Richardson's Pamela and Clarissa into French. He himself is best remembered for his passionate and tragic love story entitled Manon Lescaut, published in 1731. It later inspired operas by the composers Puccini and Massenet.

xxxxxRichardson's Pamela and Clarissa were translated into French by the writer Abbé Prévost (1697-1763) and this did much to widen the interest in English literature. He himself contributed to the development of the novel by his story of Manon Lescaut, published in 1731 as part of his Memoirs of a Man of Quality. This tells, with both simplicity and sympathy, the tragic tale of a young aristocrat who falls in love with a glamorous but fickle woman. This tale of passion later inspired operas by both the Italian composer Giacomo Puccini (1893) and the French composer Jules Massenet (1894).

xxxxxPrévost was born in Hesdin, Artois and was brought up by the Jesuits.  It would seem that his life alternated between that of a soldier and that of a monk, and that his behaviour was as questionable at times as that of his hero Lescaut. He got himself into trouble over a number of love affairs, and on one occasion was imprisoned in London on a charge of forgery. He eventually returned to France. Apart from a number of other works, he also produced a journal For and Against, similar in style to Addison and Steele's Spectator.


xxxxxIncidentally, the term picaresque can be used to describe a number of these early novels, such as Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe, Gil Blas by Alain Lesage, and Tom Jones by Henry Fielding. Such stories tell of a low-born rogue and adventurer who, in his or her wanderings, encounters depravation and constant difficulties but eventually, by any means available, pulls through. The word comes from the Spanish word picaro meaning a roguish but lovable hero. Others were to come, including The Expedition of Humphry Clinker by the English writer Tobias Smollett, and, in the 19th century, the outstanding example of Huckleberry Finn by the American novelist Mark Twain.